Newer Isn’t Necessarily Faster: Touchscreens Slow Reporting in Wyoming Primary

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Often, when communities consider new voting technology, one of the benefits suggested is quicker tabulation and reporting of results on Election Night. But in Wyoming’s recent primary, newer technology was actual the source of delays, which held up the preliminary outcome in the closely contested Secretary of State’s race. The Billings Gazette has more:

As primary election results poured in late Tuesday night, the seesaw battle in the secretary of state race became the main event.

Ed Murray and Ed Buchanan hovered at 36 percent of the vote, trading the lead throughout the night. One cloud loomed over the race until the bitter end.

Laramie County, Murray’s home turf, had yet to report the entirety of its results with more than 80 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.

The time it took to get the results from Laramie County, while adding drama to the race, left many in the age of instant gratification wondering what took so long.

County officials noted that the delays were very similar to previous primaries, but the state election office identified technology as the primary cause:

Peggy Nighswonger, elections division director at the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office, said the main difference in Laramie County is its electronic voting system.

In Wyoming, counties can use an optical scanner to scan paper ballots or poll voters via a touch-screen electronic device.

Laramie County is the only county in the state to use an entirely touch-screen system.

“With the touch screens, you have to upload individual memory cards to get your results from each piece of equipment,” Nighswonger said. “That process might take a little longer. The touch screens are better on the front end of the election process, but I think the process of getting the results can be a little slower than the optical scan.”

Nighswonger said Laramie County officials reported no problems with their election process during the primary.

In this case, it appears that misjudging turnout slowed turnout because there too many machines instead of not enough, which is usually the case:

[Laramie County Clerk Debbye Balcaen] Lathrop said the only issue the county had was an overabundance of equipment. She said one polling location was equipped with 27 touch-screen terminals.

“What I’m seeing is we deployed too many machines for the primary, because we had some machines that had fewer than 25 votes cast on them,” she said. “We could cut down the number of machines to cut down the number of memory cards we have to upload, but that’s a fine balance between having enough equipment there so voters don’t have to wait.”

She said that after the polls close, the county relies on its election judges to carry out poll closing procedure and deliver the memory cards to the clerk’s office, and although the process isn’t as fast as it is in some counties, Laramie County is focused on accuracy.

“Our motto is accuracy not speed,” she said.

In the state’s second-most populous county, the count was much quicker on optical scan machines – and using a procedure reminiscent of Los Angeles’ Election Night which sees election materials brought in from across the county:

Natrona County reported its results approximately 15 minutes before the rest of the state. County Clerk Renea Vitto relies on optical scan equipment, and Natrona County sheriff’s deputies make the final push.

Thirteen deputies travel to each Natrona County precinct to pick up memory cards from the optical scan machines and return them to the clerk’s office, leaving election judges at the polling places to complete the closing procedure.

Vitto said the presence of the deputies helps maintain the integrity of the election.

“They’re in uniform, driving a county vehicle, and it’s just an added layer of security,” Vitto said. “I think it’s important to maintain the integrity of the election while we collect the votes.”

The Natrona County Clerk’s Office turns into an election assembly line on primary night, according to Vitto. The staff members divide roles ranging from handling the press to receiving polling information among the employees.

While these time differences are interesting to track, they aren’t really that important – after all, it’s not a race, no matter how impatient candidates and the media get – but they do illuminate how the choice of voting technology can affect the pace of reporting on Election Night.

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